Kenoi pCard investigation: Four months and holding

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The state Attorney General’s Office remained mum Thursday on the status of a criminal investigation — or even if there’s an ongoing investigation at all — into Mayor Billy Kenoi’s use of his county-issued purchasing card, as the County Council prepares next week to clarify rules governing the taxpayer-backed pCards.

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The state Attorney General’s Office remained mum Thursday on the status of a criminal investigation — or even if there’s an ongoing investigation at all — into Mayor Billy Kenoi’s use of his county-issued purchasing card, as the County Council prepares next week to clarify rules governing the taxpayer-backed pCards.

It’s been four months since Attorney General Doug Chin announced in a news release that his office was investigating “facts related to Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi’s use of his county-issued purchasing card, or PCard.”

“Facts learned during the course of the investigation will determine whether the attorney general’s office pursues or recommends criminal charges, administrative discipline or no further action,” Chin said in the April 14 news release.

Spokesman Joshua Wisch told West Hawaii Today on Thursday that it’s Attorney General’s Office policy not to comment on ongoing investigations. Kenoi has hired three Honolulu attorneys, including top criminal defense attorney Howard K.K. Luke, who didn’t return a telephone message Thursday.

The investigation followed a West Hawaii Today report that Kenoi had used his pCard at Honolulu hostess bars and to buy personal items including an expensive surfboard and bicycle. Kenoi generally paid the money back, but $9,559 in reimbursements didn’t occur until months later, after the newspaper broke the story.

Between January 2009 and March 2015, Kenoi racked up a total of $122,315 on his county-issued card. In those years, he paid back $22,293 for personal charges on the card, usually within a month or so.

Kenoi has publicly apologized and promised to cooperate with investigators.

Several individuals associated with county government have been interviewed by the attorney general after being subpoenaed in connection with the case. They declined to give the newspaper details and asked that their names not be made public.

The County Council Finance Committee on Tuesday will take up Bill 78, clarifying that pCards can be used only for a public purpose.

The bill, sponsored by Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan simply adds the phrase, “No exception involving public funds shall be authorized without a public purpose,” to the section of law stating that the mayor or council chairman “may approve exceptions with good cause to any provision relating to travel and expenses.”

The Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The public can testify on agenda items at that location or by videoconference from the Hilo council chambers, the Waimea council office, the county facility in Kohala, the Naalehu state office building or the Pahoa neighborhood facility.

“I just wanted to take the first step,” Ilagan said earlier this month.

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Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, of Kona, has said he’s also considering a bill.

“I want to make sure we’ve got the right wording in there,” Kanuha said. “I’m still working on that and whether I put something out there remains to be seen.”

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